business

Small-Business Success Story: Black Girls Code

A former engineer introduces young women to computer coding.

Kiplinger's spoke with Kimberly Bryant (pictured at left), 48, founder and executive director of Black Girls Code, a San Francisco-based tech company, about why she left a stable career as an engineer to start her own company. Read on for an excerpt from our interview:

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You’re an engineer? Yes. At Vanderbilt University’s engineering school, which I attended, there weren’t that many women, and not many women of color. I had not one female instructor. I graduated in 1989 with a degree in electrical engineering and worked in the chemical and biotech industries for 25 years.

Why Black Girls Code? In 2010, I began networking with the intention of founding a start-up. Everywhere I went, people asked, “Where are the women in tech? Where are women of color?” They weren’t available to hire, and they weren’t in the pipeline. That summer my daughter, Kai, now 16, attended a game-design camp at Stanford University with a handful of girls and 35 or more boys. She said the instructor paid more attention to the boys than the girls, and that was a moment for me. I ultimately realized that I wanted to create a program for girls to provide them with education, skills and mentorship.

How did you begin? I connected with a developer from Code for America [which promotes open-source technology and supports civic-minded start-ups] and two other biotech colleagues to put together a six-week pilot program with a computer-science and coding curriculum. We launched in late 2011 with 12 girls from Bayview–Hunters Point, a San Francisco neighborhood with high unemployment and few resources.

Where are you now? We’ve reached more than 3,000 girls of color, ages 7 to 17, from communities whose members are underrepresented in the tech industry. We offer after-school and weekend workshops and summer camps in programming, game development, robotics and tech entrepreneurship, plus hackathons, during which the girls work together to build problem-solving apps. More than three-fourths of our participants attend on full or partial scholarships that cover a nominal fee, if there is one. We have chapters in nine cities as well as pilot programs in Dallas and Miami.

How are you funded? We fund-raise for the entire program locally and nationally. Our corporate partners support the program with funding or in-kind donations of food, space and equipment. For example, Google supports the chapter in New York City, and Verizon supports Raleigh and Washington, D.C. In 2014, our budget was about $750,000, and this year it’s slightly more than $1 million. We also rely on more than 2,000 dedicated volunteers.

Do you make a living? Yes. I initially worked full-time at my job and at Black Girls Code, but in mid 2013 I bit the bullet and left the corporate world. I couldn’t take a full salary until 2014. I make a lot less than the six figures I made in private industry.

What’s your greatest challenge? To grow quickly enough to meet demand. We have as many as 40 cities that would like to have a chapter. We also hope to build an internship pipeline for our older and advanced students.

Your greatest satisfaction? We have several students who now attend colleges such as Spelman and Dartmouth, where they’re pursuing degrees in computer science and are recognized as technology leaders. They point to Black Girls Code as the primary influence on their decision to go into tech.

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